Published Thursday, February 14, 2013

Local officials object to possibly losing control over cell towers

By Walter C. Jones

Morris News Service

ATLANTA – City and county officials from across the state told a House subcommittee Wednesday they fear legislation it's considering would prevent them from controlling cell towers to protect safety and neighborhood appearances.

Telecommunication officials told the same panel the legislation is needed to keep rural governments from stalling indefinitely the construction of towers needed to provide sophisticated communications.

The House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee votes today (THURSDAY) on the bill, House Bill 176, sponsored by its chairman, Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta.

“We need to make sure we keep Georgia law on pace with consumer demands,” he said, noting that 70 percent of all communications now take place over wireless networks.

The bill would give local governments 150 days to approve or deny a tower application before it automatically is approved. And it would cap the rental rates on government-owned tower locations at the rate charged by private landowners.

It also allows the owners of existing towers to raise them by as much as 20 percent without government approval.

Tom Thomson, executive director of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Planning Commission, told the committee his outfit routinely approves applications within the proposed deadline, but he worries the ability to raise existing towers will prevent local governments from insuring no one is harmed if anything falls.

“There’s a public-safety issue there,” he said.

Plus, tall towers could conflict with the look of the historic district.

“We’re strongly concerned about our esthetics, and this bill steps on that a little bit,” he said.

Other witnesses expressed concern that taller towers could get in the way of military flights at bases around the state or make the bases targets for closing.

But industry representatives told the subcommittee Georgia’s economic vitality suffers when technology lags because local officials won’t approve installation of sufficient wireless capacity.

“The general attitude of local government has become more difficult over time,” said Kevin Curtain, lobbyist for AT&T.

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